Search Engine Optimization Versus User Experience
In the last article, we covered the ways search engines use information on websites to make determinations about that site, as well as some of the pitfalls of getting plugged in with people making huge claims on search engine optimization deliverables. The other side of the coin is designing a website that overemphasizes certain aspects to make your value artificially high. This is accomplished by, among other things, creating a series of dummy pages and links, overly redundant information, duplicated content and images, and fitting in keywords in every conceivable nook and cranny. While this may fool some search engines, what the people that design these websites don’t realize is that what this really has a detrimental effect on is the ultimate critic, the user.
Members of the modern society have unprecedented access to the internet, through all manner of devices. The average person visits over 90 websites per month; this comes out to almost 10 per day. With this sort of design exposure, users don’t realize how much of an opinion they are able to build on this experience. As an additional point, studies suggest that you only have a few seconds to capture the interest of any given visitor to your website and encourage them to further explore the information contained there. When the design for your website is mainly consisting of un-useful links and blocks of text that are serving the purpose of filling space and inflating keywords, users will not dedicate the time to decode your page to find the information that they need.
One must also be careful when inflating a website’s value that search engines don’t catch on to the game. Search engines, and Google specifically, change their algorithms constantly, both to increase accurate delivery of sites from searches, and to catch on to websites that are taking advantage of loopholes or ‘catches’ that they may be overlooking. In the early 2000s, the prevalence of websites adding in huge blocks of text into background elements with colors that match the background so the end user would never see them was out of control. While they rode the wave for a while, when the algorithm changed, the crash was noticeable. The sites that maintained a slow and steady mentality of growth were the ones that came out ahead.
So where do you draw the line between SEO and user experience? My recommendation to clients is to always design to the user first. If your page is easily navigable, your content is presented in a very accessible and clear manner, and images are used to enhance the user experience, your site will be a success. Search engine algorithms are ever seeking to close the gap between artificial intelligence and human intelligence. When the website’s design is highly functional to the higher intelligence, sooner or later the lower one will get there.
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